Stories of Victorian love and lust in local cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery’s Feb. 11 event examines love and lust
in the Victorian age.

One of the stories I tell is what happens when a girl’s honor is taken, and a man refuses to marry her. It turns out very, very ugly.
~ Alexis Jeffcoat | Laurel Hill Cemetery tour guide and 2006 alumnus

Ladies in the 19th century didn’t carry around beautiful fans just because of the heat.

“It was used to flirt,” said Alexis Jeffcoat, a 2006 psychology and European history alumna. “You held the fan differently to gesture flirting with someone—whether they could approach you, or go outside on the back porch to know you better.”

Jeffcoat is in charge of Laurel Hill Cemetery’s Valentine’s Day-themed “Victorians After Dark,” which aims to reveal the details of love and lust in the 19th century. After years of managing events at Laurel Hill, she decided to create her own version of Laurel Hill’s production “Love Stories of Laurel Hill”—including teaching attendees how to flirt, circa 1900.

The night will feature tales of Victorian love and betrayal, some of which were experienced by individuals buried at Laurel Hill. The tour was inspired by another event previously held at the cemetery, but “Victorians” promises to have “a lot more lust and a lot more scandal,” Jeffcoat said.

“It’s an offshoot version, as in these are the more juicier stories of love and lust and illegitimate relationships that we were able to find,”  said Beth Savastana, the program and volunteer coordinator of Laurel Hill Cemetery. “We’re trying to reach a younger audience.”

Jeffcoat was in charge of researching the information behind the event, including looking at old notes and previous tours, Savastana said. Jeffcoat said she does “the fun part” and tells the stories, but the “puppet master” is Emma Stern, the director of programs at Laurel Hill.

Having Jeffcoat back has been nice for current staff at Laurel Hill, Stern said.

“We used to do the programs together, that’s why it’s fun for me, anyways, to work with her,” Stern said. “It’s great to work with people who care so much for Laurel Hill.”

“I still love the place,” Jeffcoat said. “The cemetery is a great place to be mindful. I do this tour, and then I generally come back for one of the Halloween tours.”

“Alexis Jeffcoat is just a natural storyteller, very entertaining,” Savastana added.

Jeffcoat promises a fun night, sharing bits of risqué love stories.

“As a lady in the 19th century, you were supposed to have your honor,” she said. “So if your honor was ever violated, the right thing to do was for someone to marry you. One of the stories I tell is what happens when a girl’s honor is taken, and a man refuses to marry her. It turns out very, very ugly.”

The event will take place inside the cemetery’s original gatehouse, Savastana said, which might make the event more accessible to those wary of walking around a cemetery at night.

“Victorians would think it’s strange how we act about cemeteries,” Jeffcoat said. “You bury someone and put up a headstone and leave. They were like public parks. You went and saw your neighbors and planted flowers. If you wanted to go outside on a walk, you went to the cemetery.”

Though guests will come to learn how love and flirting differed in the 19th century, Jeffcoat said visitors might be surprised at the similarities.

“We think that we can’t possibly relate to sitting around with dresses buttoned to our necks, so I love that moment where everyone thinks, ‘Wait, they’re just like us,’” she said.

Cocktails and desserts will be served. The event’s first showing begins at 6:30 p.m. and the second begins at 8:15 p.m.

Tsipora Hacker can be reached at

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